Meet Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class Of 2021

Elizabeth (Lizzie) Nelson

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

 “Coffee-fueled startup team member with a love of traveling and meeting new people.”

Hometown: Concord, MA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I broke my hand in high school, and the doctor didn’t properly diagnose it. I ended up backpacking across Europe for eight weeks with a broken wrist.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of St. Andrews (St. Andrews, Scotland) — International Relations.

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:  I have worked at startups my entire career. The most recent was UNiDAYS, where I was in a partnership development director who wore many hats, as one does in the startup world.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far? Helping one of my early-stage startups develop their customer pilot program and the business review checkpoints needed to get customers to sign a full-year contract.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Welcoming and diverse.  It was really important when looking at business schools that I find a sense of community with people with lots of different backgrounds and countries. I found what I was looking for at Johnson.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? I really love Johnson’s immersion program. This happens in the spring of the first year and allows you to dive into an area of interest. Many people use it to prepare for their internship, while others use it to explore something new. I was particularly interested in taking the marketing and operations immersion and studying through an academic lens.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Exposure to new things. I have worn a lot of hats in the startup world, but have yet to dive into corporate finance, supply chain, or dynamics of large corporations.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “Why business school?” In the tech startup world, pursuing an MBA is not a typical path. I had to explain that my college degree has been narrow and deep, and my experience in the professional world had been based on “whatever works.” I felt that an MBA would help round out my education and give me a new skill set that I wouldn’t have gained otherwise.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I had always considered getting an MBA. After five years in the workplace, I realized that I needed a more formal skill set if I wanted to move into a bigger company or more senior management. I had just stopped learning at my current job, which usually means I’m ready for a change. Instead of looking for a new job or position, I decided to apply to schools.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Tuck (Dartmouth) and McDonough (Georgetown)

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I first looked at schools that have an enrollment of under 300 people and was seeking a sense of community. For me, this means a place where people worked together to achieve the next personal level, rather than one where competition is a central driver. I also wanted a place that taught through case and theory, since I knew that was a more effective learning balance for me. Another key factor is that my fiancé works just outside of NYC, so I first wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be too far. Johnson fits all of the criteria above and is only a four-hour drive from his office.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are?  I have had many, but one that stands out is working at a very early start-up that went out of business. Seeing that process first-hand reminded me that many companies in early stages fail and there is a lot to learn from those experiences. It also taught me that I like companies that have been through a couple of rounds of funding because it provides more stability.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? I always struggle with this question. 10 years ago, I would never have predicted where I am now. However, I also try to choose opportunities that open up more doors in the future. If I had to describe something more granular, I would say on the path to becoming a COO at a larger-scale company that prioritizes the customer experience — service-based companies are a good example of that.

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